The effects of ineffectiveness of environmental health officers (EHOs) and its implications on the inspection of food and food premises

Introduction

Due to the ineffectiveness of health practitioners (Environmental Health Officers) they find it difficult to cover all the areas during food and food premises inspection, less attention has been paid to food meant for sale to the public and for human consumption. However, most of the environmental health officers (EHOs) are not ready to carry out their functions and therefore neglect their duties or responsibilities (Environmental Health Officers’ Registration Council of Nigeria, 2007).

Matter (2010) states that we take it for granted that the food we eat is wholesome, but it the environmental health officers who makes sure of the safety and cleanliness of our food supplies. This means that throughout the processing, distribution and preparation stages until it is sold, the environmental health officers is concerned that the food is fit to eat.

The environmental health officers routinely and regularly inspect places where the food is handled including food imports at the sea and airports – sale and services of food in market, shops, wholesale, restaurant, public houses, nursing homes, hospitals and hotels are all covered by the environmental health officers. Food stalls and other food vehicles carrying food are also monitored.

Jain and Sunil (2011) stated that society can be healthy if people are taught and persuaded to understand and practice tips of healthy living rather than depending on medicines and visiting hospitals on falling ill due to poor living styles. People lives and health are affected by every aspect of life like food, water, house or environment condition etc. Every person must be motivated toward making healthy changes in life and develops a life style that will promote lifelong wellness.

Some food safety problems cannot be resolved by national government alone, they require international co-operation because food borne diseases are a global problem. Food is easily contaminated through the handlers by introducing directly or indirectly the agents of food poisoning such as bacteria, virus, chemicals and toxic substance (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 2012).

The aim and objective which prompted environmental health officer to feel more concerned about food hygiene are centred on the following:

  • Ascertaining the hygiene standard of food premises, e.g. restaurants, hotels, and eating houses.
  • Control of food borne diseases/infection and food poisoning
  • To make sure that food meant for human consumption is clean, safe and wholesome.
  • To make sure that food meant for human consumption are protected against contamination from harvesting till it gets to the final consumer.
  • Enlightening the public on the hazards of food carelessness and food handling
  • Promotion of health and promoting life
  • Limitation of the spread of food borne infection.

Conceptual framework

Food means any raw or processed substance intended for human consumption, which when taking or ingested into the body help to promote the totality of proper metabolism. It could exist inform of liquid such as beverages. Food premises are that place, in which food intended for public consumption is sold, offered for sale, supplied, handled, prepared, packaged, displayed, served, processed, stored, transported or dispensed. Example include bake house, aerated water factories, eating houses among others. Contamination as the introduction of animate or inanimate objects or things into or on the body surface of an article or a substance, so something is said to be contaminated when foreign bodies, materials or harmful substance is introduce into it which makes it dirty, impure or diseased. The foreign bodies or materials are called contaminant. Contamination of food is caused by that extraneous matter present in them. Extraneous matter may be organic or inorganic nature e.g. micro-organisms, chemicals, adulterants, which are not part of the food composition or ingredients but may find their way into it through diverse avenues. Contaminant enters food and is accidentally or incidentally eaten from the source and end on the dining table when food is consumed.

The relevant section of the national and state environmental health laws conferred the authority to inspect food and food premises for the community.  However the establishment of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in 1993 provides a joint effort between the environmental health department of the local government area and NAFDAC.

Food protection and hygiene is an important area in the environment because this process involves the adoption of all the sanitary measures put in place including principles and procedures in ensuring that food meant for human consumption is free from agents of contamination or disease in any form in order to promote a healthy living.

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Principles of food hygiene

Ovu (2008) revealed the following principles of food hygiene:

  • Wash Hands: before commencing work, after using the toilet between different works of tasks especially after handling raw foods.
  • Wear clean protective clothing including a suitable, effective hair covering.
  • Keep all cuts or injuries covered.
  • Refrain from smoking
  • Keep fingernails short
  • Do not cough or sneeze over food
  • Report any illness which may be as a result of food poisoning to the supervisor and consult the public health authority.
  • Food handlers should not lick their hands before putting it into the food. This is to avoid transferring bacteria or any pathogenic organism to the food.
  • Food vendor should have complete physical examination done before selling food in order to rule out diseases like cholera, and gastro-intestinal diseases and so prevent transmission of such diseases.

Hygienic methods of keeping various food products

  • Vegetables: Wholesome vegetables should be fresh, and should not be fertilized with faeces. It should always be well washed and properly cooked before they are eaten. Store in the refrigerator and fresh air circulating environment.
  • Meat: Meat should not be eaten raw or food animals should be slaughtered hygienically especially diseased part e.g. liver.
  • Fish: It should be cooked and eaten without delay especially if it has been defrosted before cooking. It should be kept away from direct sun and dry wind, to prevent decayed and keeps it as cold as possible.
  • Fruit: It can be eaten fresh after being properly washed or pilled.
  • Grains: This must be properly stored by protecting it  from rats.
  • Water: It should be kept in a shaded place but breezing corner of the house. It can be boiled, cooked, filtered into a clean pot before drinking.
  • Food storage: All food items should be properly stored in a hygiene way. Perishable food should be preferably stored in the refrigerator. Food like grains should be stored properly in order to prevent insect/rodent infestation.

Food poisoning

This is a term used to describe an illness resulting from the ingestion of food that is inherently poisonous or has become contaminated with a toxic substance or been contaminated with pathogenic bacteria (Airbor & Olorunda, 2007). Orobosa (2007) classified food poisoning into four (4) groups, which include:

  1. Natural Food Poisoning: Fungal toxins or mycotoxins are poisoning caused by the infestation of fungus contaminated food e.g. mouldy grain seeds, mouldy nut and other fungus infested material. It causes haemorrhage in many tissues.
  2. Bacterial Food Poisoning: Bacterial food poisoning is caused by the presence in food of harmful bacteria or poisonous substances produced by them. These bacteria get into food through man, domesticated animals, cockroach and rats etc.

There are different types of bacterial food poisoning these are:

  • Salmonella specie
  • Staphylococcus
  • Clostridium Botulinum
  • Clostridium Perfringens
  • Bacillus Cereus
  1. Chemical Food Poisoning: This normally occur when food is contaminated with tin, zinc, copper, lead or arsenic is eaten. Metallic or chemical poisoning is characterized generally by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and cramps. The patient’s pulse is weak, breathing is shallow and there may be convulsion and eventually coma.
  2. Viral Food Poisoning: There are some certain viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhoea and this can be transmitted by water and food.

Food spoilage

Food are not stable commodities and when they have to be imported or transported over long distances, as most of our food is, it may deteriorate very quickly.

Ovu (2008) revealed that the deterioration of food is brought by a combination of:

  • Physical Damage: This is noted in the thawing of ice cream and subsequent formation of ice crystal. When it is stored at unsuitable temperature. Excessive exposure of milk to sun will destroy large quantity of the vitamin B2 contents of the milk.
  • Chemical Food Spoilage: Chemical spoilage is caused by changes in the flavour of the food due to oxidation. Chemical spoilage is also caused by the swelling of the can used in the canning of foods as a result of production of hydrogen due to the reaction between the food acids and coating material of the container.
  • Insect or Rodent Activity: Insects and rodent create a lot of havoc on agricultural product during pre and post harvest stages. Rodent grew on food such as yam, grains in the store causing spoilage and heavy loses. Insects attack fruits like mango, tomatoes, and cereals during the process of feeding on them; large quantity of food is lost as a result of the attack.
  • Enzymic Food Spoilage: Enzymes are catalyst and therefore quicken chemical reactions without being altered themselves. Enzymes can bring about both desirable changes in food. Some of the undesirable effects caused by enzymes are over ripping and softening of fruits and vegetables during their storage.
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Food premises inspection

Marion (2007) define food premises inspection as an official visit carried out by environmental health officer into any food establishment, food preserving premises in order to examine and determine the sanitary condition of food prepared and served to the public so as to ascertain the wholesomeness of the food and food product. The floor of the premises should be of hard, impervious materials which is relatively smooth and must not be slippery even after wetting. Food premises need to be sealed to reduce radiation pollution and dust/odour and to control vermins/rodent infestation. It should have adequate lighting which is essential in order to provide safe working condition.

The roles of environmental health officers in the inspection of food and food premises

According to the Environmental Health Officers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (2007), the following are role or function of environmental health officer in the inspection of food and food premises.

  • Inspection of food preparation premises prior to the commencement of operation.
  • Licensing of the food premises after satisfaction of the minimum requirement for such a license.
  • Inspection of registered food premises in order to ensure that the required standard of food hygiene is attained and maintained and thus removing all possible conditions which may lead to the contamination of food during preparation, production, sales or consumption.
  • Arrangement for medical examination of the food handlers and follow up to the results of the medical examination.
  • Prevention of the sales of articles of food which has been adulterated.
  • The environmental health officers ensures that all opening in a food premises is been screened to prevent flies and other vermins and all the external doors shall be made self-closing.
  • The environmental health officers (EHOs) ensures that the owner (s) of a food premises including mobile food unit shall ensure wholesomeness of food in such premises or unit and assume responsibility that the establishment operates in full compliance with all applicable environmental health regulation and laws.
  • The environmental health officers (EHOs) also play a vital role in bakery inspection ensuring that bread and other, such confectionaries shall not leave the bakery without being wrapped, not properly labelled. The EHO also ensure that vehicles used for transporting bread and other confectionaries shall be painted white both in the interior and the exterior of such vehicle. The name and address of such bakery and other distinguishing marks shall be written in green lettering.
  • The environmental health officers also plays a vital role in prevention of the spread of infectious disease among the food animals intend for slaughter for food e.g. ante-mortem inspection of cattle market, safe transportation of food, ensuring that the food vendors are medically and physically fit to handle food meant for public consumption.

Under the authority of health protection and promotion act 1990, an environmental health officer has the responsibility to inspect anywhere food is prepared and sold to the public. An Environmental Health Officer conduct regular inspection of all food premises to ensure that owners and food handler are meeting the minimum standard.

Power to inspect food and food premises

Aibor and Olorunda (2007) revealed that the environmental health officers have the following powers relating to food and food premises inspection.

  • Every environmental health officer employed at a service of the government may at all reasonable time examine any food intended for human consumption which has been deposited with or concern to any person for the purpose of sale or of preparation for sale and only if it appears to him to be unfit for human consumption, may seize it and remove it in order to have it deal with according to the law at a competent court.
  • When an environmental health officer has any reason to suspect that any vehicle or container contains food that is unfit for human consumption may arrest or detain the vehicle or container until it is brought before the court to be dealt with according to the laws.
  • The court after hearing the submission of the environmental health officer that any food container which is unfit for human consumption, the court may order it to be destroyed or disposed off in a manner that is fit so as to prevent it from being used for human consumption.
  • An environmental health officer shall posses all powers and privileges that would be exercised by a police officer for the purpose of arrest or to detain any person or group found guilty under the sale, inspection and regulation of food rules, guidelines and law.
  • Every environmental health officer may take sample of food, water or any substance capable of being used in the preparation of food for analysis, or for bacteriological analysis or other examination as may be necessary to satisfy himself or confirm to the court of the condition of the food or food product intended for sale or for the purpose of human consumption.
  • Every environmental health officer has the power as stipulated in section 10 of Public Health Law 2006 to enter into any premises within the time of 6 am to 6pm for the purpose of inspecting, detecting and abating nuisance, such as broken floor, lack of PPE, lack of food safe box, urinals, latrine etc.
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Requirement relating to food handling and handlers

  • There should be adequate supply of wholesome water.
  • There should be an adequate provision of cloak room accommodation for the staff.
  • There should be a sufficient number of wash hand basin.
  • There should be a sufficient number of sanitary conveniences for patrons and staff. Each sanitary conveniences should have a supply of toilet paper and should be well ventilated and kept clean.
  • No food handlers suffering from infectious disease should be allowed to handle food meant for human consumption.
  • The staff should be prohibited from smoking while preparing or serving food.
  • Animals should be excluded from rooms where food is stored, prepared or served.
  • There should be provision of first aid box.
  • A high standard of personal cleanliness on the part of the staff should be maintained. Overall, caps and headgears must be used and other personal equipment should be changed frequently.

Measures to ensure effective inspection of food and food premises

According to Ashfield Council (2013) measures to ensure effective inspection of food and food premises is to ensures that food premises comply with the Food Act 2003 and Food Regulations 2004. This can be done by ensuring that food premises take precautions when receiving, storing and handling food, including:

  • Making practicable measures to ensure that the food is protected from likely contamination. Potentially hazardous food (that which requires temperature control to prevent pathogen growth) should only be accepted by the premises if the temperature of the food is no greater than 5°C or above 60°C.
  • Ensuring that food are stored in a way to protect it from contamination, e.g. dust, vermin
  • Ensuring that food is not stored in environmental conditions that may affect the quality of the food. E.g. temperature or inappropriate storage etc.
  • A food business must only process safe and suitable food and takes the necessary steps to prevent the likelihood of food being contaminated. The business must use process steps if it is reasonably known that this would reduce the growth of pathogens.
  • All people who handle food and supervise food handling must have skills and knowledge in food safety and hygiene.
  • Owners/operators of food premises must contact their local authority (Council) before they commence food handling operations.

References

Aibor, M. S. & Olorunda, J. O. (2007). Technical handbook of environmental health in the 21st century for professionals and students. Lagos: Devine Favour.

Ashfield Council (2013). Food premises and inspection. NSW food guidelines 23, 8-13

Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (2007). National guidelines on environmental health practice in Nigeria established by Act 11 of 2002.

Federal Ministry of Environment (2005). National environmental sanitation policy. Abuja.

Jain, R. & Sunil, S. (2011). Industrial safety health and environmental management system (3rd ed). New Delhi: Romesh Chander.

Marion, N. (2007). Food politics: How the food industries influences nutrition and health, California: University Press

Matter, G. (2010). A Global law firm Advising on all aspects of International Commerce.

McGee, H. (2014). On food and cooking: The science and lore of kitchen New York: Simon and Schuster.

Ogowewo, O. (2007). Basic nutrition for community. Benin  City: Gift Press.

Olojoba, A. O. (2009). Millennium technology in waste management and environmental pollution mitigation. Ughelli: Ama Ohoror.

Orobosa, A. (2007). A simple guide on toxic substances. Warri: John’s Publishers.

Ovu, S. (2008). Introduction to environmental health (19th ed). Abakaliki: God Giveth Printing

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (2012). Is your food really safe?. Awake 12(3): 13-17.